Thursday, January 19, 2017

Top 10 Favorite Albums Released in 2015:

I don't always listen to albums when they're released. It's not that I don't get around to it - it's just that most times a flavor is best savored for a certain time of the year. Moons align, winds change, seasons whither - everything has it's soundtrack. In turn, sometimes that leaves a two year window for which to satisfy my sonic palette, especially when a record is released just after it's most appropriately designated epoch. So consider this a list in arrears. These are my favorite ten albums that were released in 2015:

10. An Autumn For Crippled Children - The Long Goodbye

An Autumn For Crippled Children has a wickedly high treble sound that takes some getting used to, even for a genre considered Post Black Metal…?  The production buries the drums, vocals and bass in the mix, pushing lighter-than-air guitars and atmospheric keyboard melodies up front to fight for the listener's ear. It skews the kvlt bullshit that likes to try to weigh it’s artists down and instead follows the path becoming more traveled by injecting inspirited melodies within it’s traditionally cold, bleak sonics. Confine it all wisely into shorter more average length songs and you’ve got a unique concoction that's more pleasant than it is pummeling - sharing table space with similar but not the same acts like Botanist's latest effort VI, and to a more produced degree even Deafheaven.

9. Gnaw Their Tongues - Abyss Of Longing Throats

In the broad assemblage of music from which I know of, there is no other band/composer that punctuates it’s sound with such overwhelmingly vile and distressing atmosphere than Gnaw Their Tongues, and it is in this extreme that "they" continue to lure my interest. Abyss of Longing Throats is the most dynamic of the last couple of releases (Le arrive' de la erne mort triomphante, All The Dread Magnificence of Perversity ), yet remains as merciless, ominous, terrifying and claustrophobic as anything that came before it. The genius of it goes beyond the fascinatingly ghastly cacophony of sounds that swirl about in magnanimously lugubrious and chaotic layers, pushing the tracks along to actually create a poignant structure that becomes the sum of it’s parts. It is more the fact that Abyss of Longing Throats seamlessly combines so many extreme genres into it’s melting pot without coming across as pretentious or asking to be more than what it is, which in truth is nothing more than a labor of love (and wanting the listener to be forever scarred by what they hear). If you go into it as a black metal album, then that is what you get. If you go into it as an industrial album, that is what you get. If you think it is either the genre of noise or simply noise itself, that’s what you get. But make no mistake, it will conjure the kind of fear and wonder that leads people to want to solve the puzzle box to see what’s on the other side if you let it. Below is the most accessible track on the record. And with so many people praising Leviathan’s Scar Sighted as one of the best records to capture all the aforementioned qualities above in 2015, let me just say – with all due respect – Abyss of Longing Throats makes it sound like a happy little Sunday drive to Dairy Queen and nothing more. * Side note: I have yet to listen to the Dragged Into Sunlight/Gnaw Their Tongues split also released this year.

8. Marriages - Salome

Imaginatively sharp, reverb drenched guitar riffs weave in and out of tribal alt-rhythms and very sparse dream-pop like keyboards, creating a surprisingly dark musical atmosphere for to which vocalist Emma Ruth Rundle sings devotedly over. The whole thing teeters on the edge of toying heavily with shoegaze notions but never comes close to committing, retaining a very organic and indie rock feel for what it is. Upon first and repeated listens my brain went right to not being able to shake how much they seemed to sound like A Perfect Circle should Maynard James be replaced with, um, er – Emma Ruth Rundle, and if that’s the void it wants to fill in my niche’ then have at it. Each song on Salome, though retaining a constant sonic calling card of sound throughout, still stands out on it’s own – making the record feel diverse yet comfortable in it’s palette, while retaining a singular dark, almost bleak beauty throughout. Top notch stuff here.

7. Napalm Death - Apex Predator

Considering their style in the grand scheme of anything played with distortion, ND still eviscerate without an agenda. Apex Predator is yet another evolutionary step towards an unknown destination within the band's impressive catalogue; how the fuck do you manage to remain so vital, invigorated, and fresh sounding in such an infested space? Especially when one of the biggest adversaries to overcome is your own discography? Dissonant chords, goth-like reverberating vocals, industrial percussion, all added to a familiar formula of rabid barking over blurring riffs that toy with comprehensive song structures and - hooks! I can always argue that 90% of every song on every album in the second half of this band's career has parts that could be cut out to bring each piece's over all running time to a more handicapping punch to the gut; but given that that glaring issue is easily ignored because of the quality of the song itself speaks volumes to this band's talent. The fact that Apex Predator arguably out does every album that's outdone every album they've done before it in the last 20 years is impressive and awesome. And that last riff...that closing stomp of 'Copulating Snakes'...c'mon.

6. Chelsea Wolfe - Abyss

I'm sorry to say that I ignored Chelsea Wolfe for far too long despite the universe continuously offering up roads to her wonderful catalogue which I still have yet to fully explore. It wasn't on purpose you see, it was simply because my feeble little kidney bean of a brain saw the name Chelsea Wolfe and immediately replaced it with the mediocre paint-by-number deathcore sheep show Chelsea Grin. And while I think she shines brightest - or maybe I should say rots grimmest - through more stripped down and lo-fi filters, Abyss offers up a very clean and beautiful albeit bleak (though juxtaposingly layered) and haunting serving of songs that flutter with ghostly despair and melancholia - all the while presenting the listener with the swollen artery that throbs throughout, begging to be punctured.  While the over-all volume seems to have been turned up to 11, it accentuates both the more powerful passages with a rattling distortion as well as the quieter, withdrawn moments by countering that overwhelming-ness like a reprieve from an all-encompassing panic attack. The subtle industrial under-tones that lurked beneath a more organic sound on albums like Apokolypsis and The Grime and The Glow are displayed here way more front and center, sometimes so much so that it feels like blatant Trent Reznor worship in spots - however Wolfe's reverb soaked haunting trademark croon keeps it in her niche', and the low rumble and polished grit of it all remains constant and slow enough to make the listener feel all that further away from the sun, unlike the illusionary more up-tempo pace of this album's predecessor Love Is Pain.

5. Deafheaven - New Bermuda

Deafheaven could have taken the easy route and made the same album twice in a row, 2013's Sunbather was an amazing piece of work, inveigling fascinated ears outside of more extreme genres that may not normally have given a record like that a chance. It won over doubters, critics, and turned away just as many more familiar with the Black Metal genus and it's kin with it's against the grain experimentation in sound and imagery. New Bermuda is a darker album in both of those qualities. The heavier parts are heavier, the dreamier parts are dreamier, and the parts where they combine the two into a Black-Gaze cyclone of majestic desperation and triumph are fewer and more far between - a wickedly bold move for a band whose very moment in the lime light was owed to such genre bending alchemy. Never-the-less, the songwriting on New Bermuda is better than the device, thusly moving this band's sound boldly forward in an almost more traditional direction, which as odd as it sounds works as a fitting next chapter in a very impressive ongoing discography. It's always nice to see a band get heavier in their delivery as their success grows.

4. Myrkur - M

Man oh man - Deafheaven and Myrkur on my end of year list? Perhaps I am nothing more than a Black Metal hipster. In a ludicrously elitist, territorial, and close-minded genre rises this wonderful one-member (for the most part) martyr, merging essences of traditional multi-instrumental folk, lo-fi tremolo-distorted black metal, and somber more classical-leaning balladry to create a brief but effective opus best indulged in the dark final quarter of the year. Mending these distant familial genres, is the native Scandanavian songwriter/vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Amalie Bruun, whose serene and angelic voice - when not the centerpiece of the melody itself- soars through rustic, natural folk instrumentation and stretches of jaggedly dark distorted swirls of cold guitars before occasionally mutating itself into the shrill reverb-laden shriek of traditional Black Metal vocals, it all too often casts that image of an angel released from the Ark of the Covenant in that moment it's visage demonically contorts and the face melting that follows. The melodies within are contemplative and beautiful, the patches of sharp, blackened pummeling are malevolent, the juxtaposition is transcending, and demanding of an open-minded, dare I say progressive listener.

3. Boduf Songs - Stench Of Exist

Through the course of six albums and a large handful of splits and 7" limited releases, Matt Sweet - the singer, songwriter, and sole member of Boduf Songs - has gradually progressed his creative child so piecemeal that the change is damn near imperceptible from album to album, and yet from first to last the music feels barely related. Slowly infusing longer and longer passages of ambient drone, full-band dynamics like live drums and actual electronic guitars, as well as the imbue of other heterogeneous instrumentation, Boduf Songs' latest album Stench Of Exist runs the gamut as a culmination of everything that came before it, thusly flaunting both a discography that is dark folk traditionalism, as well as all things experimental and introspective. Yet with all that, the lyrics and vocals never get above barely a monotone whisper, which makes everything pull you in even further. For me the experience is a warm blanket in the isolated dark, with a sound still distinct despite it's widened boundaries, and a voice that has become to feel like a friend who visits every Fall. What most who lack depth would see as nothing more than filler, I often find to be the tracks I revisit most, particularly the more droning pieces and weighted field recordings. Somewhere out there is a 36 minute unedited version of  "The Witch Cradle" that I have yet to get my hands on.

2. Bell Witch - Four Phantoms

Goddamn monstrous in it’s tone, epic and grandiose in it’s being, chasmal and introspective in-between, Bell Witch’s Four Phantoms is a sonic monolith of all of the stages of grief, sans acceptance. This behemoth of beautiful suffering plays out like a biblical testament, both in it’s context and length. With four tracks (2 full tracks actually, broken down into four and separated by each other) clocking in at over 65 minutes, and rarely ever getting over 10 beats per minute, start to finish this record is a commitment worth it’s cathartic reward. Cascading roars of grief are stifled with solemn voids of clean singing and subtle instrumentation throughout – making the simplicity of it’s sound palpable and ingestible. I swear, the riff that breaks loose just after the 17:25 mark of "Suffocatioin, a Burial: I – Awoken (Breathing Teeth)" is the definitive soundtrack to the sound of an all-life consuming, dimension destroying Hell-Demon weeping his fucking eyes out.

1. Sufjan Stevens - Carrie and Lowell

I kept up with Sufjan Stevens for a stretch of albums in the early to middle part of the man's career, and barring the Seven Swans record, and occasional more morose gems like the songs "John Wayne Gacy Jr." and "Holland" that appeared sporadically on full lengths - I've always felt that while I both admire and respect the artist's experimentation and individuality, most of his music always leaned a bit too much on the whimsical side for me. His brief flirtations with quieter, darker moments - as few and far between as they often felt - were so damn good that they kept me coming back for some time. It is in this practiced convention that makes Carrie and Lowell sound like such a long time coming, and so well worth the wait.

Carrie and Lowell plays like a record that is so unabashedly confessional, and painfully personal that I can't help but question if there was a hesitation to actually release it once the catharsis had been completed and realized. With his recently deceased mother as his muse, Sufjan gently cradles fragile and jagged memories of joy fleeting beneath a shadow of harrowing dysfunction, blurring the lines of autobiographical self-abuse and parental neglect. Aching with questions and regret, Sufjan's soft and vulnerable vocals contemplate and attempt to justify so much, that there is a sad, convoluted lucidity of twisting the branded memories of his mother's inadvertence and laxity into moments of nurturing and love. And beneath it all, as the stories and memories unfold in moments of childhood naivety, and confused, drug addled adulthood, there is a genuine love that guides the listener through, an unconditional love specific for a mother from a son. In place of grandiose choirs, whistles, horns and other forms of whimsical instrumentation there are atmospheric compositions swaying beneath, and guiding us seemingly into and out of memories. There are moments on this album that hit wickedly close to home for me - probably more so in my own interpretation than what is literally presented, but isn't that what great art is supposed to do? Whether it's an active dialogue with a terminal parent, or the running through of the few good times you've shared as you watch them slowly die in front of you, the realization of mortality comes calling clear as a bell, even for an eight year old boy, marking the end of childhood; if a song like Fourth Of July does nothing for you or to you, then you haven't lived it, and good for you.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Album Review: Superjoint - 'Caught Up In The Gears Of Application'

Superjoint Ritual has returned after a 13 year hiatus, minus two original members, the second half of their moniker, and an all consuming drug and alcohol addiction. The Superjoint discography prior to this latest effort has always been for me - a person who has passionately followed all of Anselmo's many projects since my nosedive into Cowboys From Hell and Vulgar Display of Power circa 1992 - a snapshot of his rock bottom. Unfortunately, at the same time that was one of my favorite eras of his career - starting with 1996's The Great Southern Trendkill - there was a caustic looseness to his vocals, often times slipping into indecipherable - there was also a darkness in both his delivery as well as his lyrics, dwelling on addiction, and all of the vile side effects and trauma to the psyche that go along with it. He was a fucking mess, on stage, on record, and in interviews. I'm sorry to say it, but those demons only added to everything the music was trying to be. The tension in Pantera due to all the aforementioned during this time is well documented; It was still three against one, but Superjoint Ritual was (per guitarist/bandmate/longtime best friend Jimmy Bower) pretty much all Anselmo - as he wrote "70 - 80%" of the songs.

Much has changed in the 13 years between this album and the last however. Veins are clean, consciences are clear, and the physical prowess all the more elder. As kind of goes the same for me, and possibly a large majority of the original SJR fanbase.  2002's Use Once And Destroy was catchy as fuck, eeeeeasily digestible in it's straightforward d-beat to breakdown riffage and damn near groovy at parts to boot. The band was conceived as far back as 1994 so the record had some decent time to marinate in the creative nit-picking of any long conceptualized idea - that's not to say that it's their best.  2003's A Lethal Dose Of American Hatred was sonically, lyrically, and thematically a darker record. It got a tad more grimy than it's predecessor and a lot more experimental - almost at times felt occultish. An overall reflection no doubt of the personal struggles a few of the members were having with addiction, and perhaps it's straightforwardness a reflection of the short amount of time between albums.

Caught Up In The Gears of Application feels almost mechanical in it's final output, I don't mean that it's being phoned in, rather that the guitars tend to lock in with the beating quite often here more than on previous efforts, and at that the riffs come at you almost angularly, with jagged and unexpected changes in rhythm. When you think something is going to repeat an octave lower, it stays the same - when you think something is going to break down it completely changes itself into another riff, when you think the band is going to come at you with something so killer in a synchronicity that would be reflective of their 2002 effort they get more technical than anything you could have expected. If it weren't for the crust-like surges that fuse these almost Hardcore-progressive jump-starts, or the sparce, very subtle twinge of southern metal founded thinly throughout the songs this sounds like it could be another Phil Anselmo & The Illegals record - but duh, it's in the amalgam of those qualities that Superjoint basks in it's identity. This sounds like the next logical Superjoint Ritual album, instead of taking the left hand path and getting darker, grainier, and blacker (as in black metal-er), they've taken it up a notch - a little better production, a little bit more technical, and a tad cleaner - more sobering if you will - all of which works to the group's benefit. Absolute bottom line, if you dig the old shit, you're most definitely going to dig the new shit.

Personally, I don't visit this band very often any longer - in fact; except for the entire Down catalogue, The Great Southern Trendkill, and Far Beyond Driven, I don't find myself having any kind of urge with regularity to indulge in Anselmo's projects. And so, Caught Up In The Gears Of Application never sunk it's teeth in, and I've given it a number of chances, as I did with the Phil Anselmo and the Illegals album Walk Through Exits Only with the same result. He's right at that fuckin' cusp, and it's driving me nuts. Not heavy enough to make me want to jam screwdrivers in my eyes, and nowhere near chill enough or interesting enough to make me want to listen in other aspects of my day to day living. Both Trendkill and FBD will always hold a special place in my heart, for their efforts as a mainstream band tapping into underground energy and pushing the spotlighted envelope, testing mass appeal metal audiences instead of just giving them what they want. And Down is it's own animal completely. I appreciate Phil's absolute love of extremity in music, and I don't just mean in terms of sonic weight and speed, but bat-shit experimentation and noise - I just wish he'd make the jump, and do something insanely heavy, insanely fast - taxing on all of the senses. For me, he's always come up short there. And if it's never going to happen (and let's face it, Scour was the best chance of that)  I'd rather he focus only on Down all of the time. But that's not fair and not logical, and my tastes in heavier music are more intense than most.

Top Five Grindcore albums of 2016:

Grindcore - and all it's offspring and brood - has a very special place in my heart (here's my other page dedicated to it: ) I listen to "heavier" music primarily as a catharsis. The visceral purging of emotion takes priority over how complex or creative a riff has to be to play, this music delivers said purging in jaded spades. Though many top-tier Grind bands flourish at both aspects, like any genre there are thousands of worse-than-mediocre bands trying to do it or utilizing the extremity of the sound as a bad joke, thusly overshadowing truly fantastic bands who dedicate their livelihood to a musical niche' that will never be successful nor catapult them to any sort of sterilized albeit prosperous and rewarding spotlight. It's truly a labor of love, and one that has negatively changed my opinion about a lot of the other genres of Heavy Metal out there, I mean - by comparison, aren't bands like Anthrax, Lamb Of God, Fear Factory, Pantera, Sepultura, etc. just distorted, downtuned, pop-music with strained vocals?  All traditionally structured with choruses and pre-choruses, guitar solos, intros and outros, that post second chorus breakdown - never giving in to the frenzy and always keeping that snappy little groove for you to bop your head to? Not to say that it's bad, it's just - predictable... So, now that I've pissed you off:

5. Venomous Concept - Kick Me Silly - VC III

I've often theorized and bullshitted about just how much I believe Grindcore is truly the not-so-new Punk music - extreme demands require extreme responses, and with internet and media outlets precipitating a systematic anesthetization to all things violent and depraved, we need a genre that martyrs it's very being as music by succumbing to it's own frenzied passion. While most Grindcore bands syncopate punk rhythms around the prioritized blast beats, Venomous Concept flips that equation, coming across more as a modern day punk band that occasionally leans on the very essence of it's members' collective roots in the Grindcore genre to punctuate it's sound. It works as both an anti-numbing agent to the beat down, as well as a possible gateway for those on the edge of the Punk tier who may in fact be intimidated by something even more extreme than that with which they are passionate about.

On Kick Me Silly - VC III the "supergroup" sounds like the perfect amalgam of it's parts. Herrera, Embury and Cooke (who has been playing live with ND for the past two years in Harris' unexplained absence) bring the latter day Napalm Death sound while the now defunct Brutal Truth-half utilize Lilker's feral bass and Sharp's incomparably recognizable roar to round out the band's d-beat focused punk fueled attack. While I'd still love to hear this troop get as batshit as they possibly can, it's the restrained doses of the full possibility of VC's frenzied vitriol that keep this thing coiled and popping from start to finish.


4. Wake - Sowing The Seeds Of A Worthless Tomorrow


On Sowing The Seeds Of A Worthless Tomorrow Wake don't give a hoot about dynamics, the stop and go strike, or anything that constitutes a casual listener's grasp of rhythm. It's all one constant, blasting dirge into dark hopelessness. The sound here throughout these eight tracks feels almost hypnotically monochromatic, which only adds to the feeling of being piled onto. It's as if somebody nasally force-fed Gaza with a half-ton of PCP (referencing one limited exposure band with another - nice). The infrequent lighter chords that are struck throughout the belligerent stampeding of blasts that provide a limited bubble for which to gasp for air in add such a depth to the music without sacrificing any of it's claustrophobic characteristics. One second longer and it would have felt like too much, one second shorter wouldn't have been enough - this tester of souls is just right.


3. Wormrot - Voices


It took two full lengths and an EP for Wormrot to really turn my ear. With time and exposure I've gained an appreciation for the raw straightforwardness of their delivery, and though that is an easy quality for to which find yourself blending in with the rest, Wormrot continue to surprise me with sporadic surges of brief experimentation in their sound. Their influences can be easily identified, but the fact that there are so many songs on Voices that dedicate their entire being to said influences and in turn different aspects of the genre, stepping away from the finality of the record deposes a dynamic and versatility in writing that really makes Voices a fun experience. The production is the best they've had yet, and I think that's a big cog to really making each instrument stand out on it's own here, giving it a very organic, plug-in-and-play feel without sounding too raw or muddled. I always thought the hype of Wormrot in the scene was focused on the wrong things, more the geographical origin of the band than anything else - the Noise EP made my dumb ass pay closer attention, but Voices has me proclaiming that the threat is real.


2. Nails - You Will Never Be One Of Us


Nails continue to astonish me in how they can produce music so tonally fucking heavy that moves so incredibly fast, I think Kurt Ballou may have had something to do with it. You Will Never Be One Of Us is a fitting third offering from the band, upping their own game in fact. Careening consciousness with sledgehammering power-violence and dizzying, Venturi-effect like blasts that succumb only to thick, slabs of crawling rhythms where strategically appropriate. Considering they're wisely sticking to the short-but-sweet M.O. of final running times under roughly 12 - 13 minutes (contractual obligations be damned), you'd think that those aforementioned qualities would make You Will Never Be One Of Us a forced, possibly contrived, convoluted mess. Instead however, the bombardments of sound are so well composed that the songs in fact seem longer than they are, and gratifyingly complete. Even the eight minute-plus closer doesn't feel out of place. Oh, and it's catchy as hell too!


1. Gendo Ikari - Unit 1


What the? Who the? Huh? Yes, I stumbled onto these guys whilst prowling the seedy underbelly of Bandcamp some time in early October, and in the time since - to my delight (thru no influence of my own) - have seen other blogs and social media sites begin to sing their praises. Hailing from Glasgow, UK, Gendo Ikari's 7-track debut does everything right for me. It's got the jagged, unpredictable blasting that isn't too above itself to break into wonderfully brief, groovy strides - all along maintaining a singular aural onslaught. The tones are sharp but still weighty, with a shitload of jarring, sudden brake application before projectile-like surges of straight up Grind come violently tumbling forth. It's awesome, and maybe it's because they seem so off the radar right now, or the production standard comes across as somewhat DIY (I do wish it was louder), but there is an antagonistic virulence driving behind it that feels just slightly more palpable and genuine than most right now to me, and I just can't ignore that. They ain't the first to do it, and admittedly it's not breaking any new ground, but Gendo Ikari have taken almost all of my favorite aspects of the genre and managed to put them together comprehensively into a short and caustic exhibition of appreciation for the fundamentals of the millennium's new wave of Grindcore.